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Village women get a helpline

Swapna Majumdar, Gorakhpur/Deoria

It was a hot and humid August afternoon so Babita decided to take a short-cut to Sirsia Mishra, a neighbouring village in Gorakhpur division of Uttar Pradesh. She walked down a narrow pathway between two lush green paddy fields. Just as she was wondering why the fields, usually dotted with farmers, were so deserted, she was accosted by a man. Although Babita was taken aback by his sudden appearance, she wasn’t afraid. After all, as a community volunteer with the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojna (RGMVP), a non-profit in UP working to empower women and alleviate poverty, she had traversed this path many times to visit the village to organise meetings with women. But when the man started making lewd remarks and harassing her, Babita knew it would be risky to deal with him alone.

Instead of panicking, she quickly dialled Helpline, a special number designated for emergencies by the RGMVP self-help groups (SHG), saved on her mobile phone. Within minutes, five women, all SHG members, reached the spot. When the man saw them approaching, he fled.

With nearly 11.4 percent of crime against women in India being committed in UP, the state ranks a dubious first on the national list, according to the 2014 National Crime Records Bureau. In fact, in 2013-14, UP, which has a 16.8 percent share of the country’s female population, saw an increase of 73 percent over the previous year of cases of assault on women with intent to outrage modesty.

But rural women’s collectives in the villages of Deoria district in Gorakhpur division are combatting this with an innovative idea. They have developed their own helpline so that it can be used by all the SHG members in moments of dire need and to protect themselves and others from sexual harassment and domestic violence. ...

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